Patrick Burke’s Acceptance Speech from ESPN’s Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards Show

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You Can Play Project is honored to be a recipient of the inaugural Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award at the ESPN Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards. The event, which took place Tuesday, July 14th at the Conga Room in Los Angeles, was the first of its kind. The Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards brought together athletes, coaches, teams, and non-profit organizations who use sports to make a positive impact on society. In addition to You Can Play, fellow winners of the ENSPIRE award are Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig and his wife Sue, and the “Like a Girl” campaign.

“Stuart Scott’s legacy is one of courage and honesty,” said Patrick Burke, who accepted the award on behalf of You Can Play in front of an audience comprised of some of the most powerful figures in sports. “It’s an honor to even be mentioned alongside Stuart, and an even greater honor to carry on his legacy of respect for sports.”

ESPN will air highlights of the Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards ceremony, hosted by Laila Ali, on Thursday, July 23rd (8:30 p.m. ET).

Below is the full text of Patrick Burke’s speech from the awards.


Time constraints are going to prevent me from personally thanking everyone who deserves to be thanked. So let me just thank our amazing staff and volunteers, our generous donors who support us, the leagues and colleges who have partnered with us, and especially our friends and families who care for us. It’s an especially moving honor to receive an award named for a true legend, Mr. Stuart Scott, and I would like to thank the Scott family and ESPN for gracing us with this award. I hope that we will live up to his legacy with our continued energy, hard work, and leadership.

You Can Play was founded three years ago, in honor of Brendan Burke. Brendan was my brother and my best friend, and we lost him tragically a few short months after he came out publicly as gay. Our family and everyone at You Can Play remembers him every day as we work to end homophobia in sports. So, this award is dedicated to the memory of Brendan Burke, who should be here to be honored personally.

After Brendan came out publicly, he received hundreds of emails. One of them has always stuck with me. A young gay man wrote to Brendan and said “I’ve always loved sports, but I never felt that sports loved me back.” Brendan responded to him with the promise that there were people in sports who loved and supported the LGBT community, and would always work to make him feel welcome. And after three years with You Can Play, I think they were both right. I think that there are many, many people in the sports world who love and support their LGBT friends, family, and teammates. We have amazing role models like Megan, like Jason Collins, like Robbie Rogers, Brittney Griner, Caitlyn Jenner – people who stand up and live their truths openly and freely. We have straight allies who speak out for equality and use their influence to make the sports world a little more welcoming. So Brendan was right that safe spaces do exist for the LGBT community in the sports world, and I am extremely proud that You Can Play is at the forefront of creating those spaces in sports.

But that young man was also right. For many members of the LGBT community who love sports, they are beaten down daily with evidence that sports do not love them back. That while safe spaces may exist within the sports world, sports culture is used to justify or excuse sexism, transphobia, and homophobia on a daily basis. This happens at every level. At every age. In every sport. For every gender. And it is worse for LGBT youth. When you look closely at high schools, you find that the vast majority of homophobic bullying happens where sport happens. It happens on playgrounds and in locker rooms and in gym class. It happens on the field and in the stands and it happens every single day. Change is coming and progress is being made but it is being made too slowly for the kids out there who need it now. We are losing young athletes. We are losing them to shame and to fear and to bullying and to self-hatred. Those of us with power and influence in the sports world have to take action. We are the ones who create the culture of sport and it is on us to fix what is broken. If we can inspire action- not just verbal support, real action- from everyone in this room, this slow shift is going to become an absolute tidal wave of progress.

The wonderful thing is, I know we can do it. We have seen the shift in culture in the leagues that have partnered with us. We have empowered athletes like Michael Sam and Derrick Gordon to come out publicly.  We have seen LGBT athletes win championships at the highest levels. We have worked with high school teams to create safe, inclusive locker rooms for our young athletes. When Brendan was in high school, he quit hockey. And he quit in part because he did not feel entirely comfortable in his own locker room. He needed to see out athletes as role models to show him what was possible. He needed to hear the voices of their teammates telling him that they would support anyone who loved hockey. He needed those of us with influence in the sports world to stand up and say to LGBT youth, “Yes, you can play.” That is what we do. That is who we are. We are relentlessly devoted to ensuring that no LGBT athlete ever again has to choose between what they love and who they love. I sincerely hope you’ll join us in our fight. Thank you.